Milan – Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (3/3)

As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, in this post, which is also the last post about Brera, I’ll show you masterpieces by Caravaggio, who had a formative influence on Baroque painting, Peter Paul Rubens, the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition, Giambattista Tiepolo, Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, Pietro Longhi and so on. What’s more, exhibited in the same room (Room 24) as Raphael’s “Marriage of the Virgin”, Pietro della Francesca‘s “The Virgin with Child, Angels and Saints (Pala Montefeltro)” and Donato Bramante‘s “Christ at the Column” are certainly worth our attention. At the end, I’ll give you a brief introduction to the Braidense National Library and the botanical garden, in which many plants can be found echoing the ones on the paintings in the gallery. Now, let’s start with “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi).

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi)

Michelangelo Merisi, or Caravaggio, was an Italian painter active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. Similar to Giorgione and Raphael, he died early (38 years old) and mysteriously, but became one of the most important figures in art history. His paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, and they had a formative influence on Baroque painting.

Following his initial training under Simone Peterzano, in 1592 Caravaggio left Milan for Rome, running away from the penalty for “certain quarrels” and the wounding of a police officer. The young artist (in his 20s) arrived in Rome without fixed address and without provision. A few months later he was working for the highly successful Giuseppe Cesari, Pope Clement VIII’s favourite artist, painting flowers and fruit in his workshop. In fact, I first heard the name Caravaggio when I was visiting the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, where the “Basket of Fruit” is exhibited, one of the earliest works painted during the artist’s stay in Rome and an absolute masterpiece. Gradually, because of his close physical observation and dramatic use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism (a style of painting characterized by predominantly dark tones and shadows with dramatically contrasting effects of light), Caravaggio became the most famous painter in Rome at the beginning of the 17th century. Nevertheless, his reputation as a highly successful painter was compromised by his violent, touchy and provocative character. He was notorious for brawling and on 29th May 1606, he killed, possibly unintentionally, a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni from Terni (Umbria). Previously his patrons had protected him from the consequences of his behaviors, but this time they could do nothing. Caravaggio, without any choice, fled to Naples. In around five years, he moved from Rome to Naples, to Malta, to Sicily and then back to Naples. It is said he died on his final return from Naples to Rome but the cause remains a mystery. Disease or revenge? The discussion is still held among the scholars.

If you take a look at Caravaggio’s works from 1597 or 1598 onwards, do you feel most of them somehow reflect the personality of the artist? As I read from Wikipedia, “he worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forego drawings and work directly onto the canvas.” He vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture and death. Some of them, such as “Medusa”, “Judith Beheading Holofernes”, “David and Goliath”, “Martyrdom of Saint Matthew”, “Taking of Christ”, “Crowning with Thorns”, “David with the Head of Goliath” and “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist”, are so realistic and “frightening” that they take the viewers into the scene and make them feel the terror and panic.

Despite of his ill-famed character, Caravaggio’s achievements in and contributions to western art are indisputable. Particularly important is that he made the dramatic use of chiaroscuro (tenebrism) a dominant stylistic element, “darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light.” His innovations emerged from Mannerism and inspired Baroque painting, which is characterized by great drama, rich, deep colour, and intense light and dark shadows. As opposed to Renaissance art, which usually showed the moment before an event took place, Baroque artists chose the most dramatic point, the moment when the action was occurring. Caravaggio’s influence can be seen directly or indirectly in the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Rembrandt. As commented by the 20th-century art historian André Berne-Joffroy, “what begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”

Now, let’s come back to the painting. What is the episode depicted here? The Road to Emmaus appearance is one of the early resurrection appearances of Jesus after his crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. It is in general composed of two parts, that is to say, the Meeting on the Road to Emmaus and the subsequent Supper at Emmaus, depicting the meal that Jesus had with two disciples after the encounter on the road. This painting shows that at the moment of breaking the bread, the apostles’ eyes were opened and they recognized him (Jesus). How would you feel if one of your deceased relatives or friends appeared in front of you, alive? Shocked? Frightened? Elated? Let’s see how Caravaggio, who was good at capturing the characters’ psychology, presents the scene to us.

Caravaggio’s early biographers Giulio Mancini and Giovanni Bellori suggest this work was painted in the few months after May 1606, when the artist was hiding on the estates of Prince Marzio Colonna following the murder of Ranuccio Tomassoni. He managed to sell it to Marquis Patrizi, who probably commissioned it, and it was still in that aristocratic family’s palazzo in Rome in 1939, when it was purchased for the Pinacoteca by the Associazione Amici di Brera. What does Jesus’ gesture mean? Does it and the broken bread in front of him remind you of the Blessing of the Bread when Jesus said “take this and eat it, for this is my body”? Personally, the facial features of the innkeeper and his wife remind me of Giorgione’s portraits, particularly of his “The Old Woman” which I saw in Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. I read from Wikipedia that Caravaggio might have visited Venice and seen the works of Giorgione and I guess this hypothesis vouches for the similarity that I found between the figures.


Frequently, this painting is compared with another Caravaggio’s work of the same theme, which is now in the National Galley in London. As you can see from the two pictures above, one of the similarities can be noticed in the depiction of the table with a carpet draped over and it’s a typical device of Caravaggio’s. As for the differences, the expansive theatrical guestures, which you can see from the two disciples in the 1st picture above, have become understated and natural, the shadows are darkened, and the colours muted. As commented on Wikipedia, “the effect is to emphasise presence more than drama.”

Which painting do you like more? For me personally, I’m always fascinated by Caravaggio’s mastery over still life and I love the chicken and the basket full of fruit in the earlier version because they look so real and delicious that I feel I’m also by the table in the scene. Nevertheless, the plainer palette and the more dramatic use of chiaroscuro add a more mysterious tone to the later version. What if we moved the food on the table from the 1st version to the 2nd one? Would the later painting be more successful? Well, firstly, I don’t think the colors would match and secondly, isn’t it too unrealistic for the innkeeper and his wife, who are rather poorly dressed, to offer a “banquet” with such fresh fruit and a whole freshly roasted chicken?

Last but not least, I’d like to share with you another opinion I read from Wikipedia, which says “the artist may have had problems working out his composition. The innkeeper’s wife looks like a last-minute addition.” If we try to omit her, the composition does still seem to be complete. Who was she and why was she added then? I guess only Caravaggio knows the answer now.

“Last Supper” by Pieter Paul Rubens

Since we talked about Caravaggio above, whose innovations inspired Baroque art, now let’s take a look at Peter Paul Rubens, who is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. As I read from Wikipedia, “Rubens’ highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation.”

Rubens ran a large studio in Antwerp and specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. It is said that the amount of works that he and his workshop produced has reached more than 1,400. What’s more, he was also famous for designing tapestries and prints. I remember during my visit to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, which hosts the largest Rubens Collection in the world, I saw so many of his works from different periods and of various themes and it was an amazing experience.

In addition to running a large studio, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England.

This was one of the five Flemish paintings sent to Brera in 1813 in exchange for several works taken from Milan by Napoleon, and came from the chapel of the Santissimo Sacramento in the church of St. Rumbold in Mechelen, for which it was commissioned by Catherine Lescuyer to commemorate the death of her father. Executed between 1630 and 1632, it was completed by two predellas with scenes from the Passion of Christ, currently in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon.

This work, like many others from the late production of Rubens, was executed with the help of assistants. Where is Judas? This is always the first question that comes to my mind when I see depictings of the Last Supper. Can you find him? If not, can you find a dog with a bone under the table? Dogs are usually regarded as a symbol of faith and loyalty and here it is used to underline the betrayal. Its eyes are looking up, filled with hatred and seeming to point out who the traitor is. Yes, Judas is the man who is dressed in blue turning back towards the viewer and away from the table. He holds his right hand to his mouth with his eyes avoiding direct contact with the other figures in the painting, creating a nervous expression.

The most prominent figures in the painting are probably Judas and Jesus, so the next question is “which man is Jesus”? Located centrally in the painting with a halo on his head and surrounded by his disciples with six on each side, he is easily recognizable. He holds a loaf of bread with a cup of wine in front of him, which together with Judas, represent the theological significance of the Last Supper, that is to say, the blessing of the bread and the wine and the revealing of the betrayal.

As I learnt from the website of Brera and Wikipedia, the facial features (emotions) of the figures are done by the master’s own hands and are probably influenced by “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci while the composition echoes 16th-century Venetian painting.

“Christ at the Column” by Donato Bramante

Donato Bramante was a renowned architect who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his plan for St. Peter’s Basilica formed the basis of design executed by Michelangelo. His Tempietto marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in Rome when Pope Julius II appointed him to build a sanctuary over the spot where St. Peter is said to have been crucified. Around 1474, Bramante moved to Milan and in this city, his most famous architectural works include the trompe-l’oeil choir and the octagonal sacristy of the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, the Bramante Sacristy in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and the cloister of Sant’Ambrogio. Nevertheless, he was not only an architect but also a painter, whose frescoes and oil painting can be seen in the Brera. I’ve talked about his frescoes in the previous post and here I’ll talk about his oil painting, “Christ at the Column”. Please note, this painting, together with Raphael’s “Marriage of the Virgin” and Piero della Francesca’s “The Virgin with Child, Angels and Saints”, is exhibited in Room 24 and you should see them before seeing Caravaggio’s and Rubens’ works which I mentioned above.

Bramante was trained in Urbino, “a center of mathematical studies where the use of perspective had been developed as a form of controlled organization of painted space.” After moving to Milan, he continued this research and created a few excellent examples both in architecture and in painting. First, he designed a fake vault in stucco in the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro that simulates a deep choir and then, he executed this painting, “where a number of compositional devices – the sculptural body occupying the foreground, the window, the pillar extending beyond the physical limits of the picture – suggest the existence of a large room in which Christ is being tormented.” (-Brera)

If we say, in the painting, the perspective and the figure’s sculptural plasticity (the artistic rendering of three-dimensional form) were derived from the culture of Urbino, how did Bramante get acquainted with the details of naturalism, such as the constriction of the flesh by the bindings? As I read from the website of Brera, Bramante encountered the works of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, who at that time was working on “The Last Supper” and “investigating the communicative potential of movements of the body and expressions of the face“. I guess it was this encounter that inspired Bramante’s experiment and pursuit of empowering painting to evoke emotions of the observer.

“The Virgin with Child, Angels and Saints (Pala Montefeltro)” by Piero della Francesca

This is the third painting in Room 24 and was executed by Piero della Francesca, an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. As testified by Giorgio Vasari in his book, to contemporaries he was also known as a mathematician and geometer. Nowadays Piero della Francesca is principally appreciated for his art and his painting is characterized by its serene humanism, its use of geometric forms and perspective.

After the Napoleonic abolition, the altarpiece came to Brera from the church of San Bernardino in Urbino, built by Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, to house his own grave. Some source says that the painting was commissioned by Federico to celebrate the birth of his son, Guidobaldo, but some other source says that it was commissioned for the duke’s tomb (a theory supported by the sleeping Child who alludes to death). If the first hypothesis is accurate, the Christ Child could represent Guidobaldo, while the Virgin may have the appearance of Battista Sforza, Federico’s wife, who died in the same year and was buried at San Bernardino.

Information from both the website of Brera and Wikipedia suggests that the size of the work has been reduced. According to Italian art historian Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, the work has been cut on both sides, as shown by the portions of entablatures barely visible in the upper corners. In spite of the reduction it has gone through, the work, in particular the coffer-vaulted apse, exemplifies a satisfactory result of the perspective research conducted by Central Italian artists in the late 15th century.

The iconography is that of the sacred conversation, with the Virgin enthroned and the sleeping Christ Child in the middle, surrounded by a group of angels and saints, five on each side. On the right low corner, we see Duke Federico da Montefeltro, kneeling and wearing his armor. Baby Jesus wears a necklace made of red coral beads, a color that alludes to blood, a symbol of life (the birth of the duke’s son) and death (the death of the duke’s wife), and to the redemption brought by Christ. As for the saints, on the left we see St. John the Baptist, St. Bernardine and St. Jerome beating his breast with a stone, and on the right we see St. Francis displaying the stigmata, St. Peter Martyr with the wound on his head and St. John the Evangelist. Behind the saints are the four archangels. As I read from Wikipedia, in St. John the Evangelist, the Italian historian Ricci has identified a portrait of Luca Pacioli, a mathematician born in Sansepolcro like Piero della Francesca.

As you might have noticed from the explanations above, this painting is very rich in symbols. At the end of the apse, hung by a thread from the shell semi-dome is an egg. What does it mean? Do you remember Sandro Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus”, in which the goddess Venus, after emerging from the sea fully-grown, arrives at the shore in a shell? The shell here is probably a symbol of the new Venus, Mary and of eternal beauty. According to another hypothesis, which I read from the info board on site, the egg would be a pearl, and the shell would refer to the miracle of the virginal conception because the shell generates the pearl without any male intervention. The third hypothesis is that the egg, which is not an ordinary egg but an ostrich’s egg, refers to Guidobaldo’s birth as ostrich was one of the heraldic symbols of the Montefeltro family.

“Madonna of the Candeletta” and “Coronation of the Virgin” by Carlo Crivelli

Before moving to the 18th-century Venetian painting represented by Giambattista Tiepolo, Canaletto, Pietro Longhi and so on, I’d like to mention to you briefly two paintings by Carlo Crivelli, a contemporary of Giovanni Bellini. In “Madonna of the Candeletta”, symbols of Christ’s Passion and redemption are everywhere. For example, the pears, the apples and the cherries. Nevertheless, do you know what the common feature of the two paintings is that attracted my attention and persuaded me to introduce them here? It’s the artist’s particular attention to details and his mastery over the depiction of textiles. Let’s take “Madonna of the Candeletta” as an example. In front of the painting you can see a beautifully patterned fabric and by touching it, you should feel the textured effect of the fabric that Crivelli used while depicting the Virgin’s sleeves the cloth behind the throne. The fine velvet and gold thread design reflects the trend of the 15th-century clothing, samples of which painters would usually keep in their workshops.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel with St. Simon Stock, St.Teresa of Avila, St. Albert of Vercelli, the Prophet Elijah and the Souls in Purgatory” by Giambattista Tiepolo

Giambattista Tiepolo was an Italian painter and printmaker from the Republic of Venice. He was prolific, and worked not only in Italy, but also in Germany and Spain (he died in Madrid). He, together with Giambattista Pittoni, Canaletto, Giambattista Piazzetta, Giuseppe Maria Crespi and Francesco Guardi are considered the traditional Old Masters of that period. Successful from the beginning of his career, he has been described by Michael Levey as “the greatest decorative painter of eighteenth-century Europe, as well as its most able craftsman.”

I first encountered Giambattista Tiepolo’s works when I was visiting Villa Valmarana ai Nani in Vicenza, a noble residence lavishly frescoed by the Tiepolo family (Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, the father-son team). Later, when I was visiting Venice, I saw many more of his famous paintings, including the ones he and his son had painted to decorate their own house, which were detached and moved to Ca’ Rezzonico, a palazzo and now a public museum. Here in Brera, we can also see two oil on canvas paintings by him.

This canvas was painted for the Confraternity of the Suffragio del Carmine in Venice (its members are processing in the background), and it depicts 1) Our Lady of Carmel (a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order) presenting the scapular (a distinctive garment made-up of two strips of dark cloth, worn on the breast and back, and fastened at the shoulders. Tradition holds that this was given to St. Simon Stock by the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appeared to him and promised that all who wore it with faith and piety and who died clothed in it would be saved) to Simon Stock, the order’s first general. 2) Jesus holding a habit (a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious order) ensuring the wearer swift passage through Purgatory (an intermediate state after physical death and a condition of suffering and purification that leads to union with God in heaven). Originally a hermit community, ideally founded by Elijah, whom can be seen in the background, the Carmelites received a rule from St. Albert of Jerusalem. Later, St. Teresa of Ávila founded the Discalced (without shoes) Carmelites.

Rather amazing, isn’t it? In one painting, (although it’s quite big), Giambattista tells us so much about the significant episodes in the history of the Carmelite Order. As I read from the info board on site, at some point the painting was cut in two and it was Brera that “sewed” the story together. Can you find the seam? Why do you think it was once split in two?

“Temptations of St. Anthony” by Giambattista Tiepolo

Giambattista painted this youthful work before being summoned to decorate the bishop’s palace in Udine in 1726 and from the landscape, we can already feel the young artist’s rich imagination. St. Anthony the Abbot, who is depicted as an aged monk, shields himself behind a huge book. He tries to ward off the temptation, who is depicted as a beautiful naked young woman and is being ushered by a devil with bat’s wings.

“Bacchus and Ariadne” by Giambattista Pittoni

Giambattista Pittoni was a Venetian painter of the late Baroque or Rococo period. He was among the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, of which in 1758 he became the second president, succeeding Giambattista Tiepolo.

Depicted in the painting is a story from Greek mythologyAriadne has been left on the island of Naxos, deserted by her lover Theseus. She is surprised by Bacchus and his drunk and noisy company, including the satyrs. Bacchus, the god of wine, falls in love with Ariadne and offers her marriage with the promise of a crown of stars (as you can see in the picture above) as a wedding gift. Under his red cloak, the dotted skin alludes to the cheetahs that usually draw his chariot. In another version of the story, he offers her the entire sky as a wedding gift where she later would become the constellation of the Northern Crown.

“Hannibal Swearing Eternal Enmity of the Romans” Giambattista Pittoni

As we can tell from the rapidly executed brushwork, this is a study for a painting depicting a story told by Livy, a Roman historian. When Hannibal was nine years old, he swore an oath of eternal hatred against the Romans, who had been cursed by Dido, the founder and first queen of Carthage. The theme testifies to the artist’s interest in historical painting.

(Just a little story related to the representation of this painting. Why did Dido curse the Romans? I actually heard this story when I was learning about the frescoes in Villa Valmarana ai Nani in Vicenza, painted by the Tiepolo family. According to Virgil’s “Aeneid”, Dido and Aeneas fall in love by the management of Juno and Venus but when King Iarbas the Gaetulian, a son of Jupiter Ammon, hears about the news, he prays to his father, blaming Dido who has scorned marriage with him yet now takes Aeneas into the country as her lord. Jupiter dispatches Mercury to send Aeneas on his way and Aeneas sadly obeys. Mercury tells Aeneas of all the promising Italian lands and orders Aeneas to get his fleet ready. When Dido sees Aeneas’ fleet leaving she curses him and his Trojans and proclaims endless hate between Carthage and the descendants of Troy, foreshadowing the Punic Wars.)

“The Triumph of Faith” by Carlo Carlone

Carlo Innocenzo Carlone or Carloni was an Italian painter and engraver, who continued working until he was quite old. He was famous chiefly in German-speaking countries and was one of the best-paid artists of his day. This painting caught my attention because it somehow (probably because of the general setting and the cross) reminded me of the “Discovery of the True Cross” and “The Triumph of Faith” by Giambattista Tiepolo which I saw respectively in Gallerie dell’Accademia and in the church Santa Maria della Pietà in Venice. This study for the vault of Asti Cathedral is listed in a workshop inventory taken upon Carlone’s death. I was curious because I remember in Tiepolo’s representation, part of the painting is occupied by sinners, but here in Carlone’s version, we can’t see any of them. As I read from the info board, the difference between its present dimensions and those recorded in 1775 and the fact that the part with the sinners is missing, suggest the painting has been cut.

“View of St. Mark’s from the Punta della Dogana” and “View of the Grand Canal looking toward the Punta della Dogana from Campo Sant’Ivo” by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)

Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, was an Italian painter and one of the founders of painting of city views or vedute. (A veduta (Italian for “view”) is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting of a cityscape or some other vista.) He also painted imaginary views, but the distinction in his works between the real and the imaginary is not quite clear. What’s more, he was an important printmaker using the etching technique. In the period between 1746 and 1756, he worked in England where he painted many sights of London. Thanks to the British merchant and connoisseur Joseph Smith, he was highly successful there.

As I learnt from Wikipedia, many of Canaletto’s early works were painted “from nature“, differing from the then common practice of completing paintings in the studio. Nevertheless, some of his later works seem to contradict this custom, as suggested by the tendency for distant figures to be painted as droplets of colour, an effect possibly achieved by using a camera obscura, which blurs far-away objects. As I read from the website of Brera, “a specific feature of Canaletto’s technique was the use of the camera obscura. Contemporary sources tell us that the artist made drawings from life and utilized this instrument for reproducing proportions and perspectives with precision. In reality, the numerous drawings that we possess, often mere sketches, suggest that the artist took notes in the open air and only subsequently, in the peace and quiet of his studio, reworked them with rulers and compasses to improve the accuracy of the drawing.” To be honest, both explanations which I learnt from Brera and from Wikipedia are rather confusing. Where is this camera obscura? According to the two sources above, this device seems to be in the artist’s studio, but shouldn’t it be located where the cityscape is viewed from? Shouldn’t the artist firstly make sketches of the composition of the painting “in the nature”, focusing on proportions and perspectives using the camera obscura, and then improve and perfect it in the studio? Anyway, no matter how and where Canaletto used this device, or maybe he didn’t use it at all (research by art historians working for the Royal Collection in the United Kingdom has shown Canaletto almost never used a camera obscura), the visual effects that he achieved and the details that he took great care of, are without any doubt unprecedented and breath-taking.

Some of Canaletto’s most famous works include grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge’s Palace, which are almost scientifically accurate portrayals of the environment. As you can see from the first two pictures above, though centuries away, Venice doesn’t seem to have changed a lot. The two paintings in Brera were executed between around 1740 and 1745, the years before Canaletto’s journey to England. The same subjects were among the artist’s favorites, which were replicated several times with varied angles and breadths of the view. Do you know why this particular genre of painting developed and achieved an extraordinary international success in the 18th century? As I learnt from the info board on site, the gentlemen who conducted the Grand Tour wished to take a memento of their travels home to northern Europe and this demand for “souvenirs” made vedute flourish and popular.

Thanks to Canaletto and other vedute artists, the 18th-century Venice and many other cities such as Rome and London were immortalized in their photograph-like paintings. As commented on Wikipedia, Canaletto’s “large-scale landscapes portrayed the city’s pageantry and waning traditions, making innovative use of atmospheric effects and strong local colours. For these qualities, his works may be said to have anticipated Impressionism.”

“View of Gazzada” and “View of Villa Perabò later Villa Melzi at Gazzada” by Bernardo Bellotto

Having talked about Canaletto, now let’s take a look at Bernardo Bellotto and his works in Brera. Who is Bellotto? In fact, he was related to Canaletto by kinship and was one of his pupils. Like his uncle, Bellotto was a famous Italian urban landscape painter, or vedutista, and printmaker in etching, mostly famous for his vedute of European cities such as Dresden, Vienna, Turin and Warsaw. As I read from Wikipedia, Bellotto sometimes used his uncle’s illustrious name, signing himself as Bernardo Canaletto and in Germany and Poland, he simply called himself Canaletto. It is possible that Bellotto, like his uncle, has used the camera obscura to achieve superior precision of urban views.

If we simply say that Bellotto was famous because of Canaletto, I’m afraid it’s rather unfair to him. Admittedly, Bellotto’s style is close to that of his uncle’s, characterized by elaborate representation of architectural and natural vistas. However, his works are distinguished by the specific quality of each place’s lighting. As commented by the Brera, Bellotto’s landscape painting represents “a move in a new direction thanks to the naturalness of the representation and its adherence to reality. Unlike the traditional vedute of Canaletto, which immersed Venice in a brilliant and timeless light, Bellotto’s canvases depict a precise moment of the day, investigating both its colors and the peculiar effects of its light and thereby opening the door to the evolution of the genre in the 19th century.”

He painted these two paintings, “View of Gazzada” and “View of Villa Perabò later Villa Melzi at Gazzada”, when he was only 22 years old, immortalizing a rural corner of the 18th-century Lombardy. In fact, from these two paintings, we can already feel Bellotto starting to break free of Canaletto’s influence. For example, in “View of Gazzada”, Bellotto painted the village in the afternoon light. The peasants are returning from the fields and the women are bringing in the laundry. Whose depiction, do you think, is a truer reflection of our daily life?

“The Little Concert (The family concert)” and “The Tooth Puller” by Pietro Longhi

I first heard the name Pietro Longhi when I was visiting Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice. In the Longhi Room, his paintings show the ordinary daily life of the 18th-centry Venice. After his transformation from historical painting to genre painting, he started with isolated figures of shepherds and peasant women. Then he placed them in rustic country settings. Later, Longhi changed his subject and style and it was in this field that he gained his fame. His new subjects became the Venetian patrician society and instead of portraying the noblemen in a formal style, he shows them while they are just doing their daily business. It was the first time that the Venetian aristocracy was shown in their casual dressings enjoying their own pastimes. As I read from Wikipedia, “if Cannaletto and Guardi are our window to the external rituals of the Republic, Longhi is our window to what happened inside rooms.”

As we can see from “The Tooth Puller”, though Longhi focused on the Venetian noble families, he didn’t intentionally exclude the other classes of the society. Not only aristocrats but also commoners are interested in the events in the city. Do you find the masks in the painting curious? In fact, they appeared in many more of his works. Why masks? I read from the official website of Ca’ Rezzonico that Longhi portrayed the Venetian noblemen with their faces masked to remain anonymous and the scenes they are in usually involve acts from gambling to flirting.

The Braidense National Library

In-beween the ticket and the info desks and beyond the glass door, a space can be seen named after the Empress Maria Theresa, whose portrait by Agostino Comerio dominates the room. In 1770, Maria Theresa proposed a public library in Milan, and in 1773 it was decided to be located in the Palazzo di Brera, along with the Academy of Fine Arts. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the architect of Teatro alla Scala, the entire hall is panelled in walnut and can be accessed on two levels thanks to a continuous gallery surrounding the upper level. Presently, around 40,000 volumes, which are from the 16th to the 18th centuries and are on subjects such as theology, history, geography and literature, are conserved here. Another highlight in the library is the chandeliers. They were manufactured from Bohemian crystal, which were remains of those that once lit the Salon of the Caryatids in the Palazzo Reale, destroyed in the Second World War.

The botanical garden

The Brera Botanical Garden is a historic garden founded in 1775 by Maria Theresa of Austria. During the Napoleonic era, with the introduction of exotic species, it was more characterized by ornamental flora. In 1935, it was annexed to the “Università degli Studi di Milano”, which still manages it nowadays. The current garden preserves its original layout and is divided by two elliptical ponds into three areas. The first two areas are occupied by a series of flowerbeds while the third one is the arboretum, where centuries-old trees tower. Since 2005, it’s been recognized by the Lombardy Region as a Museum Institution. As I mentioned in the first post about Brera, the most interesting activity in the garden is probably to find the plants that also appear in the paintings in the gallery. At the ticket desk or at the entrance to the garden, you can obtain a brochure called “Art and botanical walk between the pinacoteca and the botanical garden of Brera” and in it you will find the same plants painted on the artworks and planted in the garden. A unique walk between art and nature will help you discover the relationship between culture and nature, between us and our environment. Don’t wanna spend hours matching the painted and real plants? Don’t worry. There’s a map in the brochure showing you where they are.

In three posts I’ve finished introducing to you not only the big names but also the masterpieces in Brera Art Gallery. Thanks to the detailed information both online and on site, it’s such good experience to learn about individual paintings, compare them and finally discover the development and evolution of Italian, or even European fine arts. As I said at the very beginning, since you are in the “Louvre of Italy“, it’s impossible to explore all the artworks in one or a few visits. Therefore, I suggest you find and study the works that really touch your heart and make you wanna stop. Of course, after reading my three posts about Brera, I’m sure you have already picked your own masterpieces. In the future, I’ll also write about some other world-renowned art galleries such as the Alte Pinacoteca in Munich, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, the Galleria Nazionale di Parma, and so on, and if you are interested in western fine arts, I recommend you taking a look at them. At last, I’d like to say that paintings are like books. They tell us about history, about culture and about people (both the author and the characters) and as long as you are willing to listen, you will achieve a lot from them.

Milan – Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (3/3) was last modified: November 18th, 2019 by Dong

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